by John Gizzi
Health care has played a huge role in the life of freshman Rep. Nan Hayworth (R.-N.Y.). A graduate of Cornell University Medical College and an ophthalmologist by profession, she married her undergraduate sweetheart from Princeton. ("Scott was the first man I ever seriously dated.") "But you should also go back to my mother, who is from Great Britain," the Westchester County lawmaker recently recalled to me. "She was in the British Army in World War II, and when the Labor government under [Prime Minister] Clement Attlee came into power in 1945, she just hated the National Health Service that they put into law. My mother couldn't believe that the state could provide better medical and dental plans than she could obtain from the private sector, which gave her a choice."
I noted that opposition Conservative politicians quickly embraced the National Health Service (NHS), and that even Winston Churchill said he supported it when he next faced Attlee at the polls in 1951. "Well, Churchill may have changed his opinion, but my mother sure didn't," Hayworth shot back. "In fact, that's a big reason for her decision to emigrate here in the 1950s. She wanted to go somewhere where she could choose her own physician and get decent treatment for her teeth."
Health care was a major issue in the decision of the mother of two to seek office for the first time last year and challenge two-term New York Democratic Rep. John Hall. In her words, "Repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act--I won't say 'ObamaCare' because I don't like to use pejorative terms for anything--was something I felt passionately about. As a physician, I could easily see that it would complicate the entire health care issue and make life more difficult for providers and patients. It would not improve anything."
But Hayworth had other reasons for running. Recalling that Democrats controlled Congress and the White House after the '08 elections, the physician-candidate said that she "feared they would expand the federal government to such a degree it would violate what had made this country great."
So she entered the race, won the Republican nomination over three opponents, and also secured the ballot lines of the Empire State's Conservative and Independence Parties. Shaking hands at train station stops throughout the Westchester County-based 19th District, addressing lunch and dinner meetings of whatever service clubs and civic groups would host her, Hayworth quickly made friends and influenced people. As with Ron and Rand Paul, younger voters were attracted to her message of stopping the government from overreaching, and forcing it to live within the boundaries of the Constitution.
"We had a lot of enthusiastic volunteers--ranging from the young people to [onetime White House Press Secretary and Westchester resident] Ari Fleischer," she said. "And we raised more than $2.2 million. Sure, I put in about $500,000 of my own money to launch the campaign, but pretty soon, we were getting small contributions in a very big way."
Would it have been accurate to label the conservative hopeful a "Tea Party candidate'?"
"Sure," Hayworth replied. "In fact, I belonged to a Tea Party group in northern Westchester County , the Hudson Valley Patriots. There are a lot of strong friendships in groups like that, and first and foremost, we believe in the elevation of the Constitution."
Super-liberal Democrat Hall (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 0%) was increasingly forced to play defense for voting his party's line on health care and the stimulus packages. As November approached, it was becoming clear that the 19th District, which had been in Republican hands for 38 years until Hall won his first term in 2006, was going back to its political roots. In her first-ever run for office, Nan Hayworth rolled up 52.8% of the vote and unseated the two-term congressman.
True to form of never speaking ill of anyone or even using negative terms and slogans, the freshman lawmaker had nothing unkind to say about Hall. When I remarked that I had heard he was formerly a musician with the Hall and Oates combo, Hayworth gently corrected me, pointing out: "That's an urban legend. He was actually with Orleans. I understand that's what he's gone back to. I wish him well. He's a pretty good musician."
"Only Woman Physician Who Is a Voting Member'
When I met Hayworth in her office through our mutual friend, acting teacher Cheryl Felicia Rhoads, I asked if it was accurate to call her the only woman physician in the House.
"I'm the only woman physician who is a voting member," she replied, pointing out that Donna M, Christensen, the Democratic, nonvoting member from the Virgin Islands, is also a doctor. That said, the New Yorker moved quickly to her passion for repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Can that be accomplished, I asked.
"Sure--once Republicans win control of the Senate and the presidency, which I hope we do in 2012," she said. "But until then, we have to keep the issue alive. And we have to try to defund as much of the act as possible. That's going to be one of the most important chores for the Republican majority in the House."
The congresswoman sat down with us a day after she and her Republican colleagues had met with the President at the White House. She recalled how he "sounded much more conciliatory than he does in public, and told us he "trusted [House Budget Committee Chairman and Wisconsin Rep.] Paul Ryan's sincerity.' I wish he would say that to the public!"
Hayworth is an unabashed supporter of the Ryan budget plan, right down to its controversial provisions for the eventual reform of Medicare. The problem, she believes, "is that we have to come up with a way to articulate that this plan saves Medicare. Look, the latest studies say if it continues to be administered the way it is, Medicare is doomed by 2024, and the process of its downfall will probably begin in 2015. Increasing taxes to maintain the present system is a poor idea. A consumer-driven system that will preserve what Medicare does for our senior citizens is the solution. Ryan offers this. As of his meeting with us yesterday, the President has yet to offer a plan of his own on Medicare."
She also emphasized that the Medicaid program that has been drowning states in red ink could be tamed and streamlined, "but only with genuine waivers that cap the funding that is going to the states and thus permit them to make reforms in the system. The states all have their own individual problems with Medicaid, and one size does not fit all."
The conversation turned to books, and I noted that the volumes in the congresswoman's office range from economist Arthur Laffer's Return to Prosperity to The Tea Party Goes to Washington, by Sen. Rand Paul (R.-Ky.). Hayworth volunteered that one book her father insisted she read when she was 16 was Henry Hazlitt's timeless conservative classic, Economics in One Lesson.
"If there are any books I could recommend to people wholeheartedly, it is that one and Paul Johnson's books on history," she said.
Pointing to the copy of Atlas Shrugged on her shelf, I asked whether she had read that great work by Ayn Rand that was recently made into a movie, more than 50 years after its publication.
"Not yet," she said. "Friends gave that to me because they said I was a 'natural Randian.' "So I'm going to read it someday soon."